Thursday, August 26, 2010

Silencing the noise in my head and heart... by media fasting.

It’s about halfway through Ramadan and the Compact. Time always seems to fly by in the fall season, but is it just me or does this year feel especially anxious to run away?

After participating in the Compact for the past 3 years, I have become much more aware of what I consume during Ramadan and year round. I purchase fewer things, create less trash, set budgets for my spending, etc. But all of these things are tangible. What about things we consume that are not tangible, like information/media?

It sounds odd to call information consumable, until you put this kind of consumption into a familiar context. The news and entertainment industries label us as "media consumers." If we aren't perusing articles and videos on the internet, we are watching TV, listening to the radio or an iPod, texting/talking on the phone, or a host of other activities that are made possible by a communications medium. How are we not fatigued by this information overload?

Well, it seems we are fatigued. According to an article published in the NY Times, we are suffering from brain overload: the inability to experience the downtime necessary to create real and lasting memories, process information, learn, and come up with new ideas. Our brains are crammed and cluttered with stuff all day long, to the point that we've become addicted to this bombardment of information.

Yep, sounds about right.

So, I would like to step up my Ramadan Compact game. In addition to abstaining from food/drink/sex during daylight hours (regular Ramadan fast) and from buying anything unnecessary the entire month of Ramadan (the Ramadan Compact), I am going on a media fast.

I've set my own rules based upon my necessities and capabilities:

1. No social media during daylight hours. Including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. Everything.

1. I can only spend one hour on the internet the entire day, maximum. (Exception: work-related research and communication)

Pretty simple. I won’t be restricting my allowance of non-internet media (radio, TV, magazines, everything besides the internet) since they are not what I have the biggest problem with. My problem is the internet. What started as a curious attraction to a medium that granted me the ability to converse and learn from people all around the world turned into an addiction to mind-numbing information pollution. But no problem is too big for us Compacters, right?

In all of these efforts to quiet down the voices of my body and mind so that my soul can sing towards Divinity, I am reminded of Rumi's poem/thoughts on fasting:

There's hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.

If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.

Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.

When you're full of food and drink, Satan sits
where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue
in place of the Kaaba. When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.

Fasting is Solomon's ring. Don't give it
to some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you've lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing
out of the ground, pennants flying above them.

A table descends to your tents,
Jesus's table.
Expect to see it, when you fast, this table
spread with other food, better than the broth of cabbages.

And with this beautiful reminder from our beloved poet and intellect of the importance of quiet, let the media fast begin.

(The beautiful photo above I stumbled across is a self-portrait of firemisha)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Green Your Deen in 30 Days

Countering consumerism can not only save you cash and coins this Ramadan but it can save your masjid money. Then, that money can be put towards better things: feeding those without food, paying Quran teachers, developing Islamic institutions of higher learning, and the list goes on.

How can you save your masjid money? Simple. Get yourself a "Ramadan Kit." Use what you already have at home, remember, no buying anything new. All you need is a reusable bag (canvas or otherwise), a plate, a spoon, a fork, a reusable water bottle/canteen, and a hand towel.

Mosques waste far too much during Ramadan. Iftars and taraweah prayers are places where we can think, really think and reflect, about our negative impact on the planet. However, iftars and taraweah prayers are the places where enormous amounts of paper products, plastic cutlery, foam cups, and water bottles are bought, used, thrown away. Then bought, used, thrown away again. Then bought, used, thrown away again and again for 30 days.

The mosque I attend for taraweah prayers is absolutely lovely. The environment is perfect for me to recite, reflect, and revere. If only they would reduce, reuse, recycle. Each night, after 4 rakats of Taraweah, during the break, out come the Poland Springs water bottles. It's a lovely thought to quench the thirst of worshipers - but at what cost to the mosque? At what cost to the country?

Brothers and sisters go through through 3 packs of 48 water bottles each night. Multiplied by 30 nights that comes to 4,320 bottles for the month of Ramadan. That comes to approximately $4,320 for the month on water, only during Taraweah prayers. I wonder how much is spent on water for iftars - which most likely has far more attendees? Please note: NYC has over 200 mosques and this one that I attend is one of the smallest. How many mosques are in the country?

Now before you say, $4,320 for the whole month isn't that much for the mosque (but it is!!), let's consider the cost as a country. Americans buy 500 million bottles of water every week or 26 billion bottles of water each year. If each bottle costs $1, that's $26billion we spend on bottled water.

What is our contribution as Muslims? Well, if we are 7million strong in this country of 300million, we are 2.3% of the population. If we are consuming bottled water at the same rate of the rest of America, we are spending almost $600million annually. Monthly, that's $50million. Now, since this is Ramadan, imagine that our bottled water expenditures are 3 times that of a non-Holy month. We're spending up to $150million on bottled water in one month.

Check out "The Story of Bottled Water" by Annie Leonard.

It costs $20 to give one person clean water for 20 years in developing nations. As Muslims, if we stopped drinking bottled water just during Ramadan, we could give 7.5million people access to clean water for 20 years each.

Check out "Charity: Water."

Now, I've only selected to discuss bottled water here. But the costs of our iftars and taraweah prayers go on and on. Lights that can be turned down or off; paper towels that can be eliminated by us bringing our own hand towels from home; and of course, as previously mentioned, the disposables used to break our fasts - plates, bowls, cups, napkins, etc., etc., etc., that can disappear if we all assembled our own "Ramadan Kits."

The Earth is a mosque. Mosques are to be kept clean and safe for worship. If the Earth is a mosque, it too is to be kept clean and safe for worship. If we're creating waste in the mosque and throwing it onto the Earth, do we truly recognize the planet's sacredness?

Learn more about what you can do to treat the Earth as mosque by requesting "Green Your Deen in 30 Days." Simply email with "guide" in the subject line. A PDF will appear in your inbox that will guide you towards a Green Deen and a greener, greater planet, inshaAllah and Ameen.

-Brooklyn Bedouin, AKA, ibrahim abdul-matin is author of "Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet." Learn more at

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadhan Kareem everyone!!

Ramadhan has been creeping steadily toward summer, I hope everyone is holding up well. Its been a gorgrous day so far, and I've had fresh fruits and veggies from local farmer's markets in mind for both suhoor and iftar.

Since the Compact is a place to discuss creative alternatives to buying things we don't need, I wanted to take a minute and mention good things to buy this month: great foods that don't cost a lot to make, and feed our bodies well during this month of fasting. As you'll notice, they are very very simple too, nothing grand or indulgent, if you want to keep the world's hungry in mind, especially those who live and eat on less than $1 a day.

LENTILS. The incredible, less than $2/bag, yummy and versatile lentil. Boil in salt water and add to rice (Iranian Adas polo); make a simple soup by adding some sauted onion and garlic and celery, or roll them up in phillo dough, grape leaves, or wanton wrappers. Spices to consider: cumin and cinnamon.

CREPES and BLINTZES. Sooo sooo yummy. They have replaced that stack of pancakes that used be inprinted in my tummy's heart. They are lighter, digested better (at least for me), and can be filled with either sweet things or savory things. Mix up soft cheeses like ricotta or cottage, add in nutmeg, honey, and fresh berries for a sweet treat. SUGAR FREE, FOLKS. Oh yes. For a more filling, savory dish, mash boiled potatoes, add in cheddar cheese with chives or green onions, and pepper. Minimal fat, lots of yumminess. Very easy to make and assemble. I'd consider making them in advance, and then doing some last minute assembling for a wonderful suhoor.

BREAD and CHEESE. Been to Halalco recently? Try their Afghan or Iranian (Barbari) breads, under $2, toasted with cream cheese and thin slices of cucumber for a fresh Iranian breakfast sandwich. If you want to go all out, add some walnut halves, fresh basil, maybe even sliced tomato. You can get even crazier with some sliced avocado, or sliced boiled egg. Excellent with some sweet tea. Hello economy, HELLOOOO FLAVA!

FRUIT and YOGURT PARFAITS. I don't know how everyone else does it, but here's one simple way thats really quick and inexpensive. Take plain yogurt, add chopped fruit like apples and peaches, OR a variety of berries, sprinkle on some cinnamon (or ginger if you're doing apples), drizzle on some honey, and maybe top it off with some sliced almonds. Filling, easy to digest, and you could get the yogurt and nuts at halalco or other place where you won't have to pay premium price.

OATMEAL. Even in the summer, it can be excellent. I'm talking about plain ol' oatmeal, either 1 minute/ instant, or old fashioned. Its worth it to cook it over the stove top, it just takes 5 minutes (approx.). Its always best with a tinsy dash of salt. For a fresh flavor, you can add some ground cardamom, or ginger powder with apples.

Voila. Simple foods to nurish your body. Inexpensive, pretty nutritious, and pretty darn yummy if I do say so myself. Enjoy, and Ramadhan Kareem.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Ramadan 2009: Already a third over...and many bucks saved.

By the time I remembered the Ramadan Compact for 2009, it was already a week into Ramadan. How have I been so busy that even the month of Mercy is flying by?

I must admit that the compact has really helped me become aware of and reduce my consumerism throughout the year. I also realized that one of the big benefits of participating in the compact is saving money. So that's been Step 1 for me: reduce spending.

My change bag (seen above with the -unfortunately- still truthful statement imprinted on it) has gotten large, with not just coins but bills stuffed into it. Yeah!

So this year, I wanted to take it a step further. Step 2: counter the negative effects of consumer/instant gratification culture. With that money saved, I want to do some counter action... send some positivity back into the world. Lord knows we are always in desperate need for it. But also, I didn't want this money to be spent on something useless once Ramadan is over.

There are many ways one can try and do good with a small amount of change, so I tried to get creative. I thought about what makes me happy throughout the day. How wonderful is it when a stranger smiles at you on the street? Or when the receptionist seems to genuinely care about your response to the question "how are you?" Or when you hear a child's laugh? It's the simple pleasures that keep us joyful in this tough world.

After Ramadan, I am going to use the money saved in my change bag to buy biodegradeable or recycled materials, create personalized cards with different inspirational quotes, and send them to random NYC residents. Cards of love. The love that does not extinguish but remains forever burning as the Most Gracious's mercy does.

Mankind is simple: we want to be loved, inspired, cherished. The reason why we abuse each other and the earth is because we have been functioning without true Love. Mercy. Compassion. Respect. Only by digging and planting these seeds can we truly actualize change in our wasteful/abusive culture.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

If you need some motivation to get back on the Compact...

Share Your Shopping Horror Stories with Spendster [Personal Finance]
from Lifehacker

If you have a bunch of expensive stuff collecting dust in your closet or garage, it might be time to sit down with Spendster and repent for your consumer gluttony. A project from the National Endowment for Financial Education, Spendster asks folks to calculate how much they've spent on stuff they simply don't need, and to share their stories. The videos already on the site are a lesson in humility that just might change your habits. And you can use the Spendster calculator to reveal the real cost of those impulse buys, expressed in credit card interest fees or how much you'd have if you bought into Google's IPO or into an interest-bearing savings account.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Giving and Getting Back

"Never neglect to give something away every day, even if a small amount, and do this early, for hardships do not corss [the protective barrier of] charity. Never disappoint a beggar who stands at your door; give him even as little as a date or less, for he is a gift from God to you. If you find nothing to give then send him away graciously with kind words and a promise.

When you give a needy person something, smile at him and be aware that it is you who are indebted to him, for he accepts a little from you for which you receive a reward worth more than the whole world. It has been said that a single morsel of food may bring a reward from God greater than Mount Uhud.

Do not let the fear of poverty prevent you from giving charity, for it is the abandonment of charity which brings on poverty. Charity on the contrary attracts wealth. If the pursuer of the world gave much charity it would return to him multiplied."

Imam Abdallah ibn Alawi al-Haddad – The Book of Assistance, from Chapter on Zakat (p. 69).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Another Year, Another Niyyah

"I'm seeking clarity and focus in this blessed month. I pray this becomes an effort we can all extend well beyond Ramdan, insha'Allah!" ...that was, in part, my niyyah (intention) from last year. I'd like to renew that intention again for this year.

Moreover, I'm fascinated (and humbled) by the power of fasting. I think we take it for granted. I know I do. A friend recently told me about the ayurvedic ("life + knowledge") concept of the digestive fire within also being able to digest emotions. If only we don't overtax it by smothering it with food. As we so often do, in Ramadan or otherwise. This reminds me of Rumi's ghazal on fasting:
If the soundbox is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
I believe Ramadan (and all the fasting recommended outside of the blessed month... some calculations of which brings the Blessed Prophet's fast count to 150+ days a year) is a Muslim sabbath of sorts. A time to slow down, reflect, be aware and intentional in terms of our daily habits and relationships. That's what the Compact helps me do.

That said, I'm afraid I've already broken the Ramadan Compact on a couple of items. One "big-ticket" (literally!) from DC to Dubai, where I am now. Another, a smaller purchase, is a book... which I could've borrowed from a friend or the local library. See Dina's post below for more on that.

Make du'aa for me out here in this land of plenty! and I'll do the same for all of you, insha'Allah.

salaam :)